Healthy Heart Tips

May 3, 2010 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

According to the American Heart Association’s Statistics Committee, heart disease will cost the United States approximately $316 billion dollars in health care spending this year alone. That isn’t a figure that any nation would be proud of. However it is a reality and it needs to be acknowledged. What’s also true is that much of the money spent addressing this health crisis focuses on the role of pharmaceutical and surgical interventions. Today I’m going to take a critical look at several nutritional options that may mitigate the general trend that cardiovascular disease is taking in the US and well beyond its borders. (1)

One of the humblest of all nutritional supplements is psyllium fiber. It’s often thought of as an old fashioned constipation remedy and not much more. Luckily, a group of scientists from Spain don’t ascribe to this simplistic point of view. The March 2010 issue of the journal Atherosclerosis illustrates their effort to expand the application of this common form of soluble fiber. A total of 254 patients with mild to moderate hypercholesterolemia enrolled in an 8 week study that required that they adopt a diet low in saturated fat and rich in psyllium fiber (14 grams/day) or a placebo – 14 grams of microcrystalline-cellulose. The researchers use the word “placebo” loosely in this case because cellulose is actually a form of fiber itself. Therefore, the figures posted here are in addition to any affect that the “placebo” itself had in the test population.

  • The patients using psyllium exhibited an additional 6% decline in LDL (“bad”) and total cholesterol vs. the cellulose/placebo group.
  • Other cardiovascular risk markers such as aplipoprotein B-100 dropped by 6.7% and triglycerides plummeted by 21.6%.
  • Insulin levels also decreased, as well as the percentage of oxidized LDL cholesterol and systolic blood pressure.

All of these changes are generally viewed as beneficial re: cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The one practical caveat that needs to be mentioned is that the dosage used in this study would equal about 5 grams of psyllium per meal. If you used most commercial capsules, this would realistically mean that you’d need to take roughly 10 capsules/meal. It’s not impossible but it is a consideration. (2)

How many milligrams of zinc do you consume on an average day? The RDA (recommended daily allowance) is 8 mg for adult women and 11 mg for adult men. A new trial conducted at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan tested the hypothesis that much higher levels of zinc may be useful in reducing inflammation that contributes to heart disease. The trial in question involved 40 healthy seniors who received either 45 mg of zinc gluconate daily or a placebo for 6 months. Blood tests were administered at baseline and after the completion of the intervention. The first obvious observation was that high-dose zinc supplementation leads to higher serum levels of zinc. But the more interesting discovery was that those receiving added zinc had lower levels of several key atherogenic and inflammatory substances and oxidative stress: C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 (VCAM-1), malondialdehyde and hydroxyalkenals, etc. In fact, the researchers noted that higher concentrations of zinc were associated with lower levels of all of these potentially damaging substances. The authors of the trial concluded that, “These findings suggest that zinc may have a protective effect in atherosclerosis because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant functions”. (3,4)

Zinc Content of Common Foods
Milligrams (mg)
per serving
Percent DV*
Oysters, 6 medium 76.7 513
Beef shanks, cooked, 3 ounces 8.9 59
Crab, Alaska king, cooked, 3 ounces 6.5 43
Pork shoulder, cooked, 3 ounces 4.2 28
Chicken leg, roasted, 1 leg 2.7 18
Pork tenderloin, cooked, 3 ounces 2.5 17
Cashews, dry roasted, 1 ounce 1.6 11
Yogurt, fruit, low fat, 1 cup 1.6 11
Cheese, Swiss, 1 ounce 1.1 7
Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce 1.0 7
Note: DV = Daily Value
Source: National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (link)

In the zinc study, the researchers singled out antioxidants as potentially having cardioprotective properties. Most conventional cardiologists encourage patients to get the lion’s share of their antioxidants and nutrients from food. Whole grains are perhaps the most popular food group that is suggested for just that purpose. However, a surprising study from March 2010 questions whether the addition of whole grains really does much to increase antioxidant activity in the human body.

  • Twenty healthy patients were placed on a diet rich in whole grains or refined grains.
  • After two weeks on each diet, they crossed over and consumed the other diet for 14 days as well.
  • Each menu plan consisted of 8 servings of grains per day for the male volunteers and 6 servings for the females.

Blood and urine samples were taken at every stage of the investigation. A nutritional analysis was also computed to determine the approximate differences in nutrients in the respective menus. As expected, the whole grain diet was higher in fiber and every nutrient measured. However, much to everyone’s surprise, “no significant differences were seen in any of the antioxidant measures between the refined and whole grain diets”. (5)

I’ve never been a fan of using whole grains as a primary source of nutrition. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly believe that whole grains are superior to heavily processed or refined grains. But I would personally recommend obtaining dietary antioxidants and vital nutrients from low-glycemic fruits, nuts, seeds and vegetables. In my opinion, these are much better options with respect to cardiovascular and overall health.

The sad truth is that you’ll probably never hear about these studies on the nightly news or at a conventional doctor’s office. It’s exceedingly rare to find cardiologists who question the wisdom of eating a diet rich in whole grains. Furthermore, if you ask many physicians about psyllium or zinc they’ll likely think about unrelated conditions such as irregularity or combating the common cold using zinc lozenges. But this gap in communication and knowledge can be bridged if we as patients “step up our game”. We can be pro-active and bring the information directly to our health care providers. If we place the information squarely in their hands, they can no longer ignore it. The more they know, the more people they can help.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


Tags: , ,
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Heart Health, Nutrition

11 Comments & Updates to “Healthy Heart Tips”

  1. Nina K. Says:

    Good Morning, JP 🙂

    i would be interested in the same experiment done with lentils beans etc vs. seeds and nuts (esp. poppy seeds, pumkin seeds etc.). They all have a high nutrient density. And last but not least – wheat germs (flakes), they are also very high in nutrients.

    What do you think, should we ask the researchers for that 😉 ?

    Great article for every low carber ♥

    Nina K.

  2. anne h Says:

    After a year on Low Carb – my own heart rate is much improved.
    Whereas before, I would only go 3 or 4 beats before I skipped (more like a pause, actually!)
    just this very morning I counted consecutive 70 beats!
    And the rate has improved from the 40’s to the 80’s!
    I’m seldom dizzy anymore, and I get alot more done.
    Now, I need to track down some Zinc! Thanks JP!
    ♡ – a healthier heart!

  3. JP Says:

    Thank you, Nina!

    We could ask. 🙂 I’d like to see more experiments like the ones you’ve suggested. If I were a wealthy man, I’d happily finance that kind of research.

    Be well!


  4. JP Says:


    Have you seen someone about your heart palpitations/rate? Just to be sure it’s nothing to be concerned about?

    I wonder if pumpkin seeds might be especially useful. As you know, hey’re rich in magnesium, potassium and zinc.

    Continued success!

    Be well!


  5. liverock Says:


    One of the reasons given why men live on average 8 years less than women is due to the build up over the years of excess iron in body tissues. After menopause women stop losing iron through menstruation and they are then subject to iron build up too, which can increase the risk of heart disease and cancer (among other diseases).

    Grains contain phytic acic(IP6), which can help prevent the build up excess iron. If people dont want to take grains they can take supplemental IP6 instead, or better still drink 4 cups of black tea a day.

  6. JP Says:


    I agree that excess iron stores in men can be problematic. However I think that nuts and seeds are better sources of IP6 than whole grains. I’d also opt for legumes before considering whole grains.

    I support the use of supplemental IP6 provided that it’s taken apart from meals and snacks. Taking it with a cup of tea is probably a good idea as well:

    Thumbs up on the tea suggestion. Donating blood regularly is a win-win proposition too re: iron stores and helping others in need.

    Be well!


  7. anne h Says:

    A perfect idea! The pumpkin seeds.
    No about the cardio – no concern at all…
    I have it on good authority that I’m a- ok!
    Must have been a heart -throb or something!

  8. JP Says:

    Great to know, Anne. Just wanted to be sure. 🙂

    Be well!


  9. JP Says:

    Updated 09/24/15:

    Altern Ther Health Med. 2015 Sep;21(5):52-62.

    A Prospective Trial of Ayurveda for Coronary Heart Disease: A Pilot Study.

    Context • Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and its incidence is rapidly accelerating in developing nations. Patients often search for therapies that are alternatives to traditional treatments, such as heart medicines, coronary bypass surgery, or coronary stenting. Ayurveda is an ancient, East Indian, holistic approach to health care, and its use has never been formally evaluated for patients with coronary heart disease.

    Objectives • The study intended to examine the feasibility and effectiveness of comprehensive ayurvedic therapy-incorporating diet, meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, and herbs-for patients with established coronary heart disease.

    Design • The study was a prospective, single-group, pilot study.

    Setting • The study took place at the University of New Mexico Cardiology Clinic and at the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, NM, USA.

    Participants • The participants were adults with a history of a prior heart attack, coronary bypass surgery, or a coronary intervention (ie, a coronary angioplasty and/or stent).

    Intervention • All enrolled patients were evaluated by a single ayurvedic physician with >40 y of experience, and each received therapy consisting of a calorically unrestricted ayurvedic diet; instruction in yoga, meditation, and breathing; and use of ayurvedic herbs.

    Outcome Measures • The primary endpoint was arterial pulse wave velocity, a marker of arterial function and vascular health. Secondary endpoints included the following measurements: (1) body mass index (BMI); (2) blood pressure (BP) and amount of reduction in BP medications; and (3) levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides. All parameters were measured at baseline and after 90 d of therapy.

    Results • Twenty-two patients were enrolled in the study, and 19 patients completed it. The research team observed significant improvements in arterial pulse wave velocity (P = .015), and favorable reductions in BMI (P < .0001), total cholesterol (P = .028), LDL cholesterol (P = .024), and triglycerides (P = .046). HDL cholesterol did not change significantly (P = .90). A majority of hypertensive patients were able to reduce or eliminate their antihypertensive medications (P = .0058). CONCLUSIONS: The study's results suggest a favorable effect for ayurveda on arterial function and multiple risk factors in patients with established coronary heart disease. Be well! JP

  10. JP Says:

    Updated 06/02/16:

    Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 May 25.

    Dietary epicatechin intake and 25-y risk of cardiovascular mortality: the Zutphen Elderly Study.

    BACKGROUND: Prospective cohort studies have shown that the consumption of cocoa and tea is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), and cocoa and tea have been shown to improve CVD risk factors in randomized controlled trials. Cocoa and tea are major dietary sources of the flavan-3-ol epicatechin.

    OBJECTIVE: We investigated the associations of dietary epicatechin intake with 25-y CVD mortality in elderly Dutch men.

    DESIGN: We used data from the Zutphen Elderly Study, which was a prospective cohort study of 774 men aged 65-84 y in 1985. Epicatechin intake was estimated 4 times in 15 y with the use of the crosscheck dietary history method. Time-dependent Cox proportional hazards models were used to investigate repeated measures of epicatechin intake in relation to 25-y CVD mortality.

    RESULTS: Mean intake of epicatechin was 15.2 ± 7.7 mg/d, and the major dietary sources were tea (51%), apples (28%), and cocoa (7%). During 25 y of follow-up, 329 men died from CVD, 148 died from coronary heart disease (CHD), and 72 men died from stroke. Risk of CHD mortality was 38% lower in men in the top tertile of epicatechin intake than in men in the bottom tertile of epicatechin intake (HR: 0.62; 95% CI: 0.39, 0.98). Epicatechin intake was also significantly associated with 46% lower risk of CVD mortality in men with prevalent CVD (HR: 0.54; 95% CI: 0.31, 0.96) but not in men who were free of CVD.

    CONCLUSIONS: We show, for the first time to our knowledge, that epicatechin intake is inversely related to CHD mortality in elderly men and to CVD mortality in prevalent cases of CVD. More studies are needed before conclusions can be drawn.

    Be well!


  11. JP Says:

    Updated 06/28/16:

    Nutrition Research Published Online: June 27, 2016

    Twice weekly intake of farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) positively influences lipoprotein concentration and particle size in overweight men and women

    The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend twice weekly fish intake. Farmed Atlantic salmon is a good source of omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids which have positive lipid modifying effects; however, it is unknown whether these responses are dose-dependent. Our primary research objective was to determine the effect of dose- dependent intake of farmed Atlantic salmon on lipoprotein particle (P) size and concentration. We hypothesized that LDL-P and HDL-P size and concentration would increase with salmon intake in a dose- dependent manner. Overweight, adult participants (n = 19) were enrolled in a cross-over designed clinical trial evaluating intake of farmed Atlantic salmon. In random order, participants were assigned to 90, 180, or 270 g of salmon twice weekly for 4-week dietary treatments. Following a 4–8 week washout, participants crossed over to another dose of fish intake until all treatments were completed. Plasma lipid concentrations were determined and serum lipoprotein concentrations and particle size were determined by nuclear magnetic resonance. Intake of salmon reduced plasma and serum TG concentrations and increased plasma HDL-C concentrations. The concentrations of large VLDL-P and CM-P were reduced. Large LDL-P concentrations were increased in a dose-dependent manner. The mean size of VLDL-P was reduced and that of LDL was increased. Total TG was reduced as was the TG content of VLDL-P and CM-P. Twice weekly intake of farmed Atlantic salmon portions influences lipoprotein particle size and concentration in a manner associated with CVD risk reduction.

    Be well!


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